Recruitment and Retention: Part I
Law enforcement faces three challenges: recruiting good candidates, training them to understand their policing role and do the job safely and effectively, and retaining the best officers in the profession. Kentucky has spent two decades developing and progressing police training, yet many agencies throughout the commonwealth struggle to either recruit or retain the absolute best officers.
Originally published in KLE magazine's Spring 2016 issue, this is the first of a four-part series diving into some of today’s biggest recruitment and retention issues that plague law enforcement agencies across the nation, but often go overlooked and unnoticed in an ever-evolving workforce landscape.
From Generation to Generation
Generational differences can play a huge role in how a law enforcement agency functions, how it reflects the community its officers serve and how effective it is in recruiting new members to its force. As a department head, start by taking a look at your workforce for clues on what you need to effectively hire and retain the best officers for the community your department serves.
In most police departments today there are three distinct generations present: Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials. Generally, Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1965, placing them between 51 and 71 years old. Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1985, making them 31 to 51 years old. Millennials were born between 1985 and 2005, falling between 11 and 31 years old. These generations are defined and shaped by world events, politics, music, technological advances and, of course, influences from generations before them. These three generations can affect a police department in vastly different ways, so let’s break it down a little.
The Baby Boomers in today’s workforce have been working for quite some time.
“Boomers are characterized by a ‘live to work, work to live’ mentality,” said Ed Lingenfelter, a DOCJT leadership instructor who teaches a three-hour block on generational issues in the Academy of Police Supervision. “As a generation, they challenged authority, and then they became the authority.”
In law enforcement where 20-year retirements used to be the norm, members of this generation easily are pushing into 30- and 40-year careers. Yet for a myriad of reasons, many are choosing not to retire, staying as long as they can in a profession they love and to which they are dedicated.
For Generation X officers, lingering Boomers holding onto leadership positions have created a deficit of management-level positions into which they can transition. Many of these officers have been in the career field for 10 to 15, even 20 years and, depending on the size of the agency, they have fewer options for moving into upper management, Lingenfelter said.
Additionally, officers staying in the field longer make it difficult to bring in new, younger officers.
“What’s stopping Millennials from coming in is the Boomers not leaving,” Lingenfelter said. “Agencies can only hire what’s in their cap — someone must retire or leave in order to hire more people. The biggest issue is (older) people are not leaving to be replaced.”
In with the new
But for those agencies with the openings to hire new officers, many are finding recruiting Millennials is a whole new ball game.
“The recruitment challenge appears to be deepening over time as generational preferences and conceptions of work and career change and other trends work to reduce the pool of qualified applicants,” a 2014 Law Enforcement Executive Forum, or LEEF, study showed. “Whereas departments have had historical difficulties recruiting women and minority applicants, their inability to grapple with generational differences has shown the profession to be underprepared for the rapidly changing and uncertain economic and social landscape.”
Millennials tend to have an outlook on life and work the generations before them don’t understand or don’t agree with. Yet recruiting this generation into the public safety workforce — and retaining them — depends on knowing what they want and need in a career, and what will make them turn the other way.
“This is a generation that thinks they can have it their way and genuinely think they will make a difference,” Lingenfelter said. “And you can’t tell them otherwise.”
One of the biggest things about the millennial generation is their desire to make a difference in the world in which they live. They are a consumption-conscience generation that is quick to jump on board with a cause they believe is legitimate and about which they care, Lingenfelter explained.
“To recruit Millennials, you have to capture that giving-back, make-a-difference mindset, but it has to be authentic,” Lingenfelter said. “If they find you a fraud, you’re a fraud.”
What’s more, Millennials have a different vision of how to relate to authority. Most law enforcement agencies have a typical hierarchical authority structure. However, many Millennials do not buy into that form of authority.
Police One writer Lance Eldridge, in his article “The ‘Me Generation’ and the Future of Law Enforcement,” explained “Millennials don’t like hierarchy or readily accept another’s titled authority.” Instead, they want “a constant stream of feedback” and prefer a “mentor, not a formal boss.”
This often poses challenges for law enforcement supervisors and executives who function in an atmosphere where the leaders give direction and the officers are expected to follow, no questions asked. Instead, Millennials want to engage in a two-way dialogue with those in leadership. They want to feel that their input is valued and respected.
“They want their newly-selected ‘mentor’ to listen to their ideas and opinions, and one study found that 76 percent of Millennials think their boss could learn a lot from them,” Eldridge said.
Millennials also crave a healthy work-life balance. Through the eyes of Boomers, who ‘live to work and work to live,’ and Generation Xers who are seen as ‘willing to put in extra time to get a job done,’ Millennials are said to be lazy and entitled, Lingenfelter said.
“But that’s not true,” he said. “Every generation is called lazy and entitled.”
“Generation X and Baby Boomers really didn’t need or want balance, we were work first, play second,” agreed Henderson Police Chief Chip Stauffer. “This group wants to work, and they do a phenomenal job, so they’re not lazy. “But getting them to stay an extra shift is difficult because it’s their time.
“For managers and leaders this gets difficult because it’s so different,” he continued. “It’s a paradigm shift that we have to understand and get creative with how to handle.”
Bring it to the table
In spite of their different needs, wants and expectations in a career, Millennials bring a lot to the table that makes them attractive recruits. They are a digital generation who have never lived in a world without computers and cell phones. They not only understand technology, they are very comfortable with it. Millennials easily can navigate a social-media driven society. Because of technology, the Internet and social media, these individuals are globally minded and inventive — able to think outside the box. Millennials also have high ethical standards and are committed to being the next great generation to turn around all the ‘wrong’ they see in the world today, according to Lingenfelter.
These attributes can be very useful to law enforcement agencies looking to fill their ranks with today’s best and brightest. But in order to recruit them, agencies need to consider changing recruitment strategies and long-term employment goals.
“The recruitment challenge is a product of several rapidly changing trends, which departments appear ill-prepared to address, in the way police recruiters and potential applicants view each other,” the LEEF study sited. “Lacking organized recruitment programs, objectives or strategies, police departments have placed themselves at a growing disadvantage in recruiting qualified officers, losing them to other industries and fields at a quickening rate.”
Bluegrass Airport Police Chief Scott Lanter agrees.
“There is a war on talent — we are fighting everyone for good people,” he said “The war is based on two things, what you can offer employees and what you can give them to better themselves.”
According to Lingenfelter, there are three things agencies seeking to recruit Millennials need to embrace to be successful.
Tell them how they can make a difference — In the past, agencies have focused recruitment efforts around the traditional officer dressed in his Class A uniform or by touting specialty programs such as SWAT teams, K-9 units or detective bureaus. To Millennials, the staunchly traditional uniform is not a selling point like it was for Generation X recruits, and they will be disappointed when they don’t reach those specialty positions within a year or two of hire, Lingenfelter said. Instead, focus on ways that these individuals can make a legitimate difference in your community by serving as a peace officer.
Explain there is a career path — Millennials always are seeking knowledge and the next big thing. Tap into this by helping them understand and explore the training opportunities offered in Kentucky through your agency. Partner with a local college or university to help officers build on their education, and create a path of development on which they can collaborate and complete at their own pace.
Be upfront and honest — Tell them all the facts upfront about what they’re getting into. From job duties and expectations to pay and time spent in the academy, Lingenfelter said. He encourages agencies to talk about things like the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund upfront and explain how it works into their overall salary.
“If you give them everything up front and allow them to make a decision, then they feel like they are part of the decision-making process,” Lingenfelter explained. “This is a shift in culture. They want to feel like they are making a difference every time, and feedback is necessary for them.
“Any agency that feels like they can’t do that, won’t ever be able to recruit these people,” Lingenfelter emphasized.
How do you do it?
There are all kinds of agencies out there trying all kinds of things when it comes to recruitment. But there are just as many agencies that aren’t changing a thing about the way they recruit the next generation. For decades, law enforcement agencies used the newspaper to advertise job openings. However, today’s Millennials have a world of news at their fingertips. They have no reason to pick up a local paper.
“We are trying to utilize Facebook and Twitter for hiring,” said Henderson’s Stauffer. “When we have vacancies, tests and information sessions, we use social media to tap into a group that doesn’t read the newspaper.”
‘Word of mouse’ outreach strategies, like using social-media sites and the Internet to attract candidates, has become increasingly more necessary. As members of the digital generation, Millennials communicate better online and turn to the web first to gather information. One study cited by LEEF found 18 percent of recruits surveyed were first motivated to contact their current employer because of an Internet advertisement, and 80 percent reported accessing the Internet at least daily.
“The Internet’s overall effect on police recruiting varies, but departments using it have been able to present their organizations in ways that influence applicants, dispel negative images and transmit positive ones, showcase their technological abilities and recruit in ways that resonate with the new generation of applicants,” the LEEF study states. “Despite the generational differences that might separate police command staff from young recruits, using Internet media could sell policing in messages that potential recruits hear very personally.”
During the November 2015 Police Executive Command Course conducted in Richmond, participants echoed the same sentiment with a resounding “Market yourselves,” during day-four, round-table discussions about recruitment and retention.
“People looking for jobs as officers, that’s what they key on — how we present and market ourselves,” said Lexington Assistant Chief Lawrence Weathers. “We need to look at that. SWAT, K-9 and mounted units, that’s not what they want. They want to know what our benefits are, how much time will they have to play instead of work and why they should work for us instead of Procter and Gamble.
“Single parents are a big portion of our hires,” Weathers continued. “Do you offer child care? Do you offer shift work? Does it have to be 8 hours, 10 hours? If you’re thinking of this, do the people you’re looking to hire know that?”
Likewise, LEEF emphasizes the importance of branding your agency, allowing your department’s advertising message to constitute your identity for applicants. But before an agency can develop its brand, it needs to decide what its needs and goals are, and then match the marketed image with them, in order to attract applicants that match their goals.
“Community policing and generational differences have driven a reexamination of the selection process by forcing departments to rethink what specific characteristics they seek in their officers,” LEEF stated. “When considering the challenges of recruiting qualified applicants from younger generations, departments should consider restructuring the process to account for both applicant perceptions and departmental goals.”
Though there are dozens of issues surrounding recruitment and retention of qualified individuals who will make exemplary officers, understanding the dynamics of a new, up-and-coming generation and the paradigm shift in the attitudes and expectations of these individuals is paramount to the successful navigation of the recruitment and hiring process.
“We have to adjust to society’s expectations and Millennials expectations,” said DOCJT Leadership Instructor Chip White during the PECC round-table discussions. “They won’t adjust to us. We have to make the adjustments to reach them. They aren’t going to come to us and conform to our old expectations. We have to change those to be successful in recruiting the next generation.”